Despite its attractive and distinctive plumage, the hoopoe is superbly camouflaged for its ground-feeding behavior in its preferred dry habitats. This bird is so outstandingly unique that it was revered in ancient Egypt, is a symbol of virtue in Persia and is the national bird of Israel.
Hoopoe, Common Hoopoe, Eurasian Hoopoe
- Bill: Long, dark, thin, decurved
- Size: 10-12 inches long with 17-18-inch wingspan, prominent crest, long tail
- Colors: Pink-buff, orange-buff, tan, black, white
- Markings: Genders are similar with the head, breast and back ranging from pink-buff to orange-buff to tan. The head features a long, black-spotted crest. The broad, rounded wings have bold black and white stripes, and the black tail has a thick white horizontal band at the midpoint. The lower abdomen, rump and undertail coverts are white. Legs and feet are dark, and the eyes are black. Juvenile birds have duller plumage overall, and the bars in the wings are more off-white than pure white.
Habitat and Migration:
These unique birds prefer relatively dry habitats and can be found in orchards, vineyards, olive groves, open woodland, parks, gardens and suburban areas. They are relatively common around human habitation, and can be found year-round along the northern coast of Africa, in the Arabian peninsula, throughout sub-Saharan Africa and from India east to the coast of China. The summer breeding range extends further north to include Europe from Spain and Portugal north to the southern tip of Sweden and east to Korea and southern Japan. In winter, birds at higher latitudes migrate into the year-round range and Indonesia.
During migration, hoopoes can be occasionally seen in southern England, and vagrant birds are recorded in the United Kingdom fairly regularly. Very rare vagrant sightings may occur in Alaska.
These birds have a low, resonating “pooo-pooo-pooo” or “ooop-ooop-ooop” call which earned them their name. The calls are typically made with 2-3 syllables and may be repeated at regular intervals. Male birds use the call to defend their territory, and during the breeding season, hisses and squeaks are also common, though at other times of year hoopoes are fairly quiet.
Hoopoes are ground-foraging birds similar to flickers in North America. They will probe the ground looking for insects, and their heads have extra musculature to allow their bills to open underground. They are usually found in pairs or small groups, and the prominent head crest is most often closed except in alarm or when landing. These birds regularly sunbathe and will take dust baths as well. During the breeding season, males are especially territorial and will chase other males away, even stabbing at intruders with their long bills.
Hoopoes are monogamous birds. As cavity-nesters, they choose nesting sites low to the ground, often in a hole in a wall or occasionally in low nest boxes. The nest may be unlined or sparsely lined with bits of leaves, grass or feathers. A typical brood can have from 3-12 round, pale, milky blue eggs, and 1-3 broods may be laid per mated pair each season.
The female parent incubates the eggs for 15-16 days, and the male may feed her during the incubation period. After hatching, the altricial chicks are covered with a fine down and are fed by both parents for 25-29 days until they leave the nest. After fledging, they stay near their parents for up to another week.
These unique birds will readily feed near humans in areas with short grass or bare ground that provide easy foraging. Leaving low, decaying walls intact can encourage birds to nest, and they will occasionally use nest boxes or bird houses that are mounted low to the ground.
These birds are not endangered or threatened, though illegal hunting can be a problem in some areas. Habitat destruction is the biggest threat for hoopoes, but they are adaptable and can thrive near humans, making it easier for them to relocate if favored habitats become untenable.